After days of feverish speculation in the British media in the Skripal case based on rumour rather than fact, the British police have now released information which firms up the facts.
Firstly, they have confirmed that the chemical agent used in the attack on Skripal and his daughter was a nerve agent; and second they have said that the attack was a targeted assassination attempt.
That means that my speculations earlier today that Skripal and his daughter ingested the agent by themselves, and that the incident may have been either a case of recreational drugs use gone horrible wrong or a joint suicide attempt, are wrong.
I suspect that the success of the police investigation will now depend on their success in identifying the person or persons who actually carried out the attack. However until more information about that is known, and until the police have actually identified the nerve agent used, further speculation about the case is unwarranted.
I would add three further points:
(1) It turns out that Sergey Skripal was not just a Russian army officer but was a serving officer of the Russian military intelligence agency the GRU. However I still think it is wrong to call him a ‘Russian spy’ or even a ‘double agent’. It is quite clear that his loyalty was to the British who were paying him and that he was therefore a British agent. I feel I was right therefore to call him previously a ‘British spy’.
However Skripal’s employment by the GRU does make it extremely unlikely that he was part of Christopher Steele’s network or that he had any connection to Christopher Steele;
(2) Use of a nerve agent to carry out the attempted killing means that whoever was behind the assassination attempt wanted the fact that it was an assassination attempt to be generally known, and actually went out of their way to draw attention to the fact. That is an important fact in itself, and it begs many questions;
(3) Though the target of the attack was clearly Skripal, two other entirely innocent people – his daughter and a member of the British emergency services – were affected by it. That is a shocking fact, which shows that ‘targeted assassinations’ such as this one are an imprecise and indiscriminate instrument.
Until more is known, it is wrong to speculate further. However that will not prevent the British media and plenty of other people doing so.
We shall continue to provide updates as more news comes in.